Notes towards new visual art or Alternative Visual Facts *draft
My friend and colleague John Pomara and I have co-curated an exhibition with Joan Davidow at Site 131 which opens this week. We are both also artists in the exhibition. As there are descriptions and an essay about the show elsewhere, here I’ll make a few remarks about my new work, a return to gallery and 2D art after a long absence.
I’ve been thinking for a while about how to reintroduce flat, wall based, non moving visual art to my practice. Years ago, while still in graduate school and for a while after, my large digital prints were at Ace Gallery in Los Angeles, an enormous space with a controversial history. It was 1991 and no one was buying or selling printed digital art, or so I found out the hard way. I quickly abandoned gallery art for new media. Fast forward to today and digital prints are, finally, a common sight in galleries.
To ease my transition back to visual art after many years away I employed various strategies from performance and new media. For this first series, I’m playing White Guy Yelling At His TV From The Couch. This was not new for me and I didn’t have to change a thing. The question was how to get from furiously spitting bits of Cheetos into the air towards a television to an image object on the wall. What 2D thing could White Guy Yelling at TV transform into? How could that experience be translated, restructured into flat stillness? I went from yelling at the television to yelling at software, which was also not new.
I had two starter ideas at the beginning of the process, both of which were about context: how and were would these things be seen? The first was to make a series that was intended to be the backdrop for firing people called Paintings for Firing People. The idea is that someone would buy a painting and put it in a room where people were regularly fired. This idea came from a Therefore performance held in front of a crowd of visual artists where we asked “how many people have been fired in front of your pretty, pretty painting?”
The second idea, pursued in part here, is that the work would be somehow Instagram proof. So much work on instagram is ostensibly not for instagram, but, sans rationalizations, it most certainly is. There’s a pretense that the platform, the scale, the hundreds of millions of viewing environments (cars, bedrooms, bathrooms) do not matter. But they do matter, the same way a Judd placed without ceremony in a parking lot matters, but in reverse.
There’s a reason for objects to be exported to the world from software. Scale is not enough. The graphite marks on the piece in the show, which only show up at certain angles, are a start at this. There are also moire patterns that appear differently at various scales and via phone screens. As the series develops there will be more experiments in frustrating digital representation (of an object that was itself originally digital).
Software struggles to absorb my anger at misplaced white anger. Digital can’t cut or poison you the way traditional tools can. The pixels want to be thrown, jumped up and down on, made unpredictable. But the predictable sequences required to use commercial software are someone else’s logic, an ordering that is enemy to gesture and improvisations. And when things enter the world from digital environments, when they are made to be frozen and under the constraints of common objects, I become nervous and uncertain. Everything becomes too fucking late.
What was the White Guy Yelling at? All the source images for this series come from pictures and video of people at Trump rallies. These are the ones right behind him, often enraptured, mouths open, all nodding in agreement and chanting the way some animals howl and swarm in unison. The source image from the work in the show is from the rally immediately following the Kavanagh hearings. It is called Suburban White Woman #1. The phrase comes from pollsters and marketers and was repeated as “suburban white women” consistently through the 2016 election and ever since. This group was, many television people are saying, largely responsible for the election of Trump. A few days after the Kavanagh hearings, there they were, mouths still agape, their lumpy leader spitting red meat in front of them. Words that hurt were soothing them in places they do not understand. The person loosely portrayed in Suburban White Woman #1 betrayed a more complex look, the certainty of white rightness a bit more transparent than just days before. Or was this just my projection and some perverted crush? You’re not really alt-right, right? There’s a path to enlightenment in your eyes! If only pixels could absorb WTF’s and wafts of coffee breath from across my converted garage, we would be one, I’m sure of it.